Obituary: Professor Richard Pear

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RICHARD PEAR was the first professor of politics at Nottingham University when he was appointed in 1965.

His chair was one of the results of the Robbins expansion of higher education in the early 1960s. Nottingham University had slowly evolved from the University College of 1881, where D.H. Lawrence had studied before the Great War, to full university status in 1948. It was one of the smaller universities and was regarded as a conservative campus despite having had the future Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell, and others like him, on the staff in the 1920s.

In the early 1960s its second transformation got under way and, in keeping with the spirit of the times, the social sciences expanded and stylish modernist buildings were erected. The formidable Fred Dainton took over as vice-chancellor. The future Lord Hollick graduated in Sociology and the TUC's John Monks in Economic History.

However, the balance remained weighted towards its excellent traditional disciplines like adult education, agriculture, pure and applied science, engineering, languages and law. A new medical faculty soaked up the funds at a time when relatively less and less money was available for higher education.

Dick Pear battled in these circumstances at the head of a team of only five, which had to produce quality rather than quantity. He was successful in that graduates with Nottingham Politics degrees climbed the ladder in many fields. Pear was particularly proud to hear that a number of his students (among them Daria Taylor and Kelvin Hopkins) had been elected to Parliament in May 1997.

Although most of the annual intake were normal A level candidates, Pear was sympathetic to "mature" students without formal qualifications. When he retired in 1981 his team had expanded to six and the number of graduates had increased from nine in 1966 to 20 plus by the end of the 1970s. Many other students took courses in Politics.

Pear was born in Manchester in 1916, the son of one of Britain's first professors of psychology, Thomas Hatherley Pear. His mother, Catherine, was active in good causes and had a special interest in working-class housing. Dick Pear attended Hume Grammar School, where he was good academically and as a sportsman. He excelled at rugby and cricket.

As a youngster in Manchester he became politicised. He witnessed poverty in the midst of plenty, the clashes between the Mosley's Blackshirts and anti-Fascist activists. As with many others of his generation he swung to the left seeing the Soviet Union as the bulwark against Fascism.

From Manchester he embarked upon a Politics degree at the London School of Economics in 1935. Here he came under the influence of Harold Laski, Richard Tawney and other democratic socialists. After graduation in 1938 he took up a Darwin research fellowship of the Eugenics Society, followed by a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship at the University of Chicago, in 1939- 41. He served briefly with the British Information Services in New York. His wife, Evelyn, also an LSE graduate, whom he had met at a Peace Camp in Ludlow, Shropshire, in 1936, worked in the codes and cipher department of the British Consul General.

Anxious to get into the fight against the Nazis, he returned to Britain and was sent to Sandhurst. On graduation he was assigned to the Armoured Corps but spent most of his military service in the relative calm of Kenya. He was demobilised with the rank of staff captain.

In 1947 Pear returned to the LSE as Assistant Lecturer in Government, advancing to a full lectureship a short time later. In 1959 he was promoted to Reader. His main area of expertise was American government and politics and he published his American Government: its theory and practice explained for the English reader in 1955. This was well received and a second edition appeared in 1963. He also contributed to other works on American politics.

He loved the United States but it was the America of the New Deal, Studs Terkel, Henry Fonda, Scott Fitzgerald, Adlai Stevenson and The Graduate, not that of the House of Un-American Affairs Committee, Nixon or Reagan. He was a popular lecturer, a handsome figure who took great care over his appearance. He was kind to his students and tried to help where possible. He was more interested in teaching than in research. At Nottingham he ran his department on an informal, gentlemanly basis. Though he welcomed Nottingham's more recent achievements he would not have fitted in too well with the aggressive managerialism prevalent in contemporary higher education.

Pear's How People Vote (1956) was about the British electorate. For some time he was a member of the Labour Party and there was talk of embarking on a parliamentary career. But he was too open-minded and independent to be a party man. Nor was he combative enough for the rough and tumble of politics. In any case, as a strong family man, he came to the conclusion that the life of an MP would not have suited him. Nevertheless, he remained a committed socialist and a dedicated secularist to the end.

Richard Hatherley Pear, political scientist: born Manchester 10 March 1916; Assistant Lecturer in Government, London School of Economics 1945- 47, Lecturer 1947-59, Reader 1959-65; Professor of Politics, Nottingham University 1965-81; married Evelyn Canning (one son, one daughter); died Nottingham 17 February 1998.